Wednesday, September 7, 2011

25 Years of Brewing at Alaskan

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell
Twenty-five years is a long time.  It's a quarter-century, which in today's hyper-modern culture means it's ancient history.  Let's see, in 1986 Reagan was still president, there was still a Soviet Union, gold was valued at $350 an ounce, and yours truly had just reported to his first sea assignment.  Today, Reagan's been canonized by the GOP, the USSR is in the dust bin of history, the dollar has been inflated by the Fed to the point that it takes 1900 of them to buy an ounce of gold, and I've been retired from the USN for seven years come October.  Yeah, it's been a quarter century, all right.

However, something else of interest happened in 1986.  Geoff and Macy Larson got the crazy idea to open a craft brewery in Juneau, Alaska.  With the benefit of hindsight, it's hard for us today to grasp just what a leap of faith this was for them.  Alaskan Brewing Company became the 67th brewery in operation in the US when it opened in December, 1986; today, there are more than 1700.  Juneau is really a crazy place to open a brewery, given its relative isolation and lack of road links to Outside.  Fortunately for us all, Geoff and Marcy were Alaskans, and Alaskans seldom make decisions based on whether or not something seems crazy.  Instead, they dug up an old recipe from the Douglas City Brewing Company (1899-1907), rounded up 10 volunteers, and spent 12 hours hand-packaging the first 253 cases of Alaskan Amber for sale in Juneau.  The rest, as they says, is history...

In celebration of their first 25 years, Alaskan chose to brew the appropriately-named Perseverance Ale, the latest addition to their Pilot Series of limited-edition specialty beers.  The beer is stylistically a Russian Imperial Stout, with the added local ingredients of birch syrup from the Alaska Birch Syrup Company and fireweed honey from Alaskan Bee Apiaries, plus some of the alder-smoked malt that is used in their medal-winning Smoked Porter.  All of these are great choices to highlight the "Alaskan-ness" of the brew.  Besides these local ingredients, there are also brown sugar and malted oats in the recipe. So what's it taste like?

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell
Perseverance Ale pours totally opaque, with a small tan head that dissipates to a collar.  The aroma has a hint of smoke, plus plenty of sweet notes battling it out with roasted flavors.  On the palate the story is much the same, with 50 IBUs of bitterness to balance the big malt bill and the syrup and honey additions.  The beer is deep, rich, and complex; the finish is long, with some sweetness making itself felt, then a touch of alcohol heat from the 9% ABV at the very end.  It will be interesting to cellar the beer for a year or more, to see if these sweet flavors dry out over time. All-in-all a potent and delicious Russian Imperial Stout, slightly sweeter than typical examples produced by other breweries.  Congratulations to Geoff and Marcy and the rest of the folks at Alaskan; I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with in the next 25 years.

Perseverance Ale wasn't the only syrup-laced brew I tried over the Labor Day Weekend.  I also cracked a bottle of Life and Limb 2, a collaboration between Dogfish Head Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing.  Supposedly the "life" part comes from the fact that it's bottle-conditioned by live yeast, while the "limb" references the addition of both birch and maple syrups. The beer poured a dark, slightly-translucent chestnut with a big, cream-colored head. The nose was plenty of big, clean sweetness, and the carbonation was excellent, giving it an effervescent mouthfeel.  The sweet notes continued on the tongue, with flavors of brown sugar and molasses, as well as some heat from the 10.2% alcohol.  Life and Limb 2 finished long but by no means dry; this is a beer for those who like their brews on the sweet side.  This is another brew that I'd be interested in cellaring, just to see what the yeast would do to the flavor profile over a year or two.

Moving on to another member of the Beers-With-Unusual-Ingredients-Club, I had a bottle of Midnight Sun's Aukland Wit Bier.  This is the latest entry in their World Tour series and is brewed with kiwi fruit.  It poured a crystal-clear gold with a nice white head.  The aroma was classic wit, light and refreshing, with hints of lemon and citrus.  The beer had wonderful carbonation, with a great, light feel on the tongue.  The flavors from the aroma continued in the taste, making for a very refreshing brew. All-in-all, this was a very tasty wit, but there was one thing missing: the kiwi.  I know I haven't got the most refined palate out there, but usually when something's printed on the label, I can find it in the beer.  Not this time.  Aukland's a delicious wit bier, but if you can pick up the kiwi, you've got a better taster then mine.

I and several of my colleagues dropped into St. Elias Brewing after work on Friday, both to unwind after a busy week and get some growlers filled for the long weekend.  There was another new beer on the menu, a Munich Red Ale.  Zach wasn't around for me to ask, but my impression of the brew is that it's another of what I like to call his "fauxmaltiness, both in the aroma and on the palate, with perhaps a touch of roastiness.  Very nice, and a great accompaniment to food.  In fact, I was told that the day before some tourists from Munich had been in to St. Elias and this beer was their drink of choice, so that's a pretty good endorsement!

As for our other local breweries, I don't have much news, other than that folks are trying to catch up after a busy summer.  The cans for Sunken Isle IPA are enroute from the manufacturer, so hopefully we'll have a second choice of cans from Kenai River soon.

Finally, some upcoming Anchorage beer events to keep in mind: Thursday evening Merchant du Vin is hosting a beer dinner at Ruby's Cafe and this Saturday is Bodega-Fest at Kincaid Park. See my previous blog for more details, but if you'll be in anchorage on either date, these are events not to miss.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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